Anonymous asked: Hi! I’m kind of new at writing, and I’m working on an action story; zombies to be exact. I don’t know how to put violence/action onto paper very well, so it’s difficult for me. Do you have any tips?
Often, the most difficult thing about writing action is the pace. It is important not to weigh down your prose with descriptors while trying to paint your gory picture. As we’re sure you can tell from watching any action-filled summer blockbuster, things move fast! If the writing is “slow” (i.e., bogged down by a ton of expansive sentences, adverbs/adjectives, and lengthy dialogue), there’s always a strong reason for it. Keep that in mind when you’re writing.
If you’re writing from the point of view of your character (first-person), remember that he or she is not an omniscient being. In an action-packed situation like yours, describing every moment in fine detail would be unrealistic. Instead, be impressionistic — a flash of blood here, a zombie moan there, a dash of gray matter to top it off. Use vivid detail that moves plot forward in fits and spurts instead of paragraphs of blow-by-blow description.
Also, the violence and action should be a gritty mixture cerebral and physical if you’re writing from first-person point of view. The character should be fighting waves of fear-induced nausea, pressing his or her aching body onward, and praying to a higher power that the zombies don’t catch up. This is some meaty stuff for writers! Relish it.
If you’re writing in the third-person, try thinking like a camera in a horror movie. You might pan over the scene from above, show some desolated street corners, catch a glimpse of your hero hiding in a basement with a shotgun, show the oncoming zombie horde, and then let the battle break out. As Richard Price famously said, “You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying in the road.”
Other things to keep in mind:
In action scenes, dialogue should be short. Very short. Feel free to put your grammar in peril to get the point across as quickly as possible, as in the case of “‘You sure?’” in the example above. The idea is to convey urgency. Also, as is the case with the actual action of the scene, stay true to your character in action dialogue. If your character is a babbler, decide on that early on and write accordingly. Or maybe your character is the silent-in-times-of-stress type. Make sure to convey your character’s voice accurately in action scenes, and that character interaction in appropriate to the group dynamic already in place.“Go now! Get to the docks! I’ll meet you there.”
Med sprayed bullets into the wall of oncoming moaners. I watched a few hit the pavement. Blood splattered. The horde flattened those that had fallen. Closer now. A stone’s throw away.
Med glared at me over his shoulder. “GO!”
Did you notice the transition from descriptive pacing to action-based pacing? It happens when Denise appears at the entrance of the alley. As soon as the sentences get shorter, the pace picks up. Large blocks of descriptive text are not your friend in action pacing. Pare down your paragraphs. Avoid cliched dialogue (especially in death scenes). Move your characters through space and time quickly, and you’ve got action that gets the reader’s palms sweating.Together, Jerry and Rick looked down at the oozing bite mark on his forearm. Rick’s skin was already lined with black veins, the flesh around the bite an angry reddish-purple. This was it. Jerry’s vision blurred; something in his mind snapped. Before he knew what he was doing, he’d torn his shirt sleeve from the seam at the shoulder and tied it around the wound. Blood stained the fabric immediately, but at least they couldn’t see the teeth marks anymore.
“You’re going to be fine,” Jerry said tremulously, and Rick stared up at him with wild eyes. “You’re going to be just fine.”
Denise stuck her head around the corner of the alley. “We’ve got to get moving!” she shouted. Then she saw Rick. “What happened?”
“Nothing happened!” Jerry pulled Rick to his feet. “Let’s go.”
They met Denise at the entrance of the alleyway. On the main road, things had gone south. There were bodies everywhere. Denise took aim at a nearby zombie and shot through its ear. The thing crumpled, revealing three more behind it.
“Run for it!”
“I’m empty! Run!”
Rick tripped forward. Jerry couldn’t run and hold up Rick at the same time. Denise was already a block ahead.
“I’m dead, man.” Rick tore away from Jerry and collapsed against a car. “I’m already dead.”
He didn’t have time to argue. They were coming. Jerry ran.
Action scenes take practice and editing. If you can, plan your scenes thoroughly before you write them, get all the description out of your head and on the page, then dial it back to the barest minimum. The reader should be whipping the pages, not just turning them. Make them stop and stare in breathless panic at the end of a chapter. That’s when you know you’ve done your job.
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Also, thank you to Evvy for helping out with this post. You’re awesome!